The wonderful world of Tuscan veggies
Our family loves to travel and it loves food. The two loves come together in the foods we seek out, the restaurants we try and eat at and in the cooking classes we often take when traveling. Its one thing to read up a recipe in a non-native cuisine, it is quite another to get the instruction from somebody who is immersed in the cuisine. And so, with that in mind, when we started thinking about a trip to Italy late last year, we first explored ways to take a full-week long immersion course in the food and wine of Tuscany. Many options came up on Internet searches but one name kept coming up repeatedly, with high ratings – Organic Tuscany. It looked really intriguing and we were ready to pull the trigger but then we decided to explore Tuscany more and cut back on the food and wine immersion. Thankfully, Organic Tuscany offered a one-day option at the beautiful home of Manuela and Silvio. We signed up.
Working with Manuela and Silvio was really easy, especially for vegetarians. They sent us a master list of dishes we could make, from which we could choose two appetizers, a first course, a second course and a dessert. Given what was in season and what we wanted to learn, we chose
Crostini with marinated bell peppers and goat cheese
Crostini with mushrooms and herbs
Gnocchi with fresh tomato and basil sauce
Risotto with seasonal vegetables
Apple tart with almond butter
A fabulous spread of seasonal vegetables awaited us when we arrived at Manuela and Silvio’s house. Coming from the US, we were not used to seeing such wonderful produce (we get the insipid, genetically modified vegetables that look the same 12 months a year and have no flavor). There were tomatoes that dripped with flavor, earthy mushrooms and juicy asparagus to just name a few (see the first picture of this post to know what I am talking about). Silvio informed us that our menu was slightly modified because of what he found in the market. We would be making not one, but two types of Risotto (Mushroom and Asparagus). We started right away. Manuela put us to work with Silvio translating and Emma (their daughter) washing dishes as we went along.
Time flew by and after much laughter, learning and wine (Fattoi – Rosso di Montalcino
– awesome!) we sat down to eat the best meal we had in Italy. My wife said, and I agreed, that this was easily the best day of our trip to Italy.
There were quite a few lessons we learned from Manuela and Silvio but here are the top five.
1. If the ingredients are good, don’t overprocess – We made a Pomorola (Tomato based) sauce to eat with Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Celery, Carrots, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Basil and Olive Oil. No “Italian Seasoning”, Oregano, Thyme or Fennel. Simple. Straighforward. Delicious.
2. Ditch the mixer, use a food mill – I am used to using a handheld mixer (wand) to puree my sauces and soups. It works but also blends the skins and seeds. Enter the hand cranked food mill. No seeds or skins and the puree is just as good (I bought one two days after coming back from Italy).
3. Don’t butcher the garlic – Till we went to Italy, we always minced the garlic before using it in any recipe. After the trip, we are more mindful. Full cloves impart a more subtle aroma and can be ditched halfway through the recipe if needed.
4. The Mezzaluna
– I now have another knife in my collection. The Mezzaluna. Had never heard of it or used it. Mezzaluna means crescent moon in Italian. That is exactly the shape of the knife. One uses a rocking motion to mince herbs. Given the amount of Indian cooking at our house, I anticipate heavy usage in making Ginger-Garlic paste. Click here
to see what it looks like.
5. If the Olive Oil is good, let your dishes bathe in it – I was surprised at the quantity of Olive Oil that was used in each dish. However, the dishes never tasted heavy and the flavors were spot on.
Learning from Organic Tuscany was a wonderful experience for us and one we would highly recommend to all foodies heading over to Tuscany.